Journalist’s guide to SEO

In journalism school we learned how to attract readers through snappy leads. Today our objective is to attract search engines, too, through search engine optimization or SEO.

Are you a journalist with a Web site or blog? Before search engines can list your site among their search rankings they must locate it, and there are ways you can write your content to help search engines do that and list your site higher among their rankings. This is called search engine optimization. It’s not much different from writing news stories in ways to attract readers, although yes I understand the idea of writing for a search engine is a bummer.

Think of it this way. Readers never will find your content unless search engines do, right?

Yesterday I spent some time researching SEO practices as a means of improving my own blogging. Here’s what I found out.

  • Fundamentally SEO is about keywords. Think about the keywords readers will use in locating your content. Search engines analyze content beginning at the top, so place special emphasis on your headline, subhead and first graf. Notice how I included the keywords “search engine optimization” and “SEO” here in my first graf, even though it seems a little cluttered.
  • Write clearly. Search engines don’t understand double meanings, and they have no sense of humor. Replace pronouns and adjectives with keywords.
  • Write short. Search engines give most weight to a site’s first 500 words. So if you want to write longer consider breaking up your content among multiple pages. That way search engines will analyze all your content rather than just the first 500 words.
  • Search engines reward sites with fresh content. So update regularly.
  • They reward sites with links. So link often.
  • But don’t sacrifice quality for SEO. Search engines — and readers — respond to quality content. Don’t overstuff your content with keywords and links. Search engines can recognize deceptive tactics, and they can ban your site from their rankings.

Want more information?

  • The Society of Professional Journalists offers a comprehensive Digital Media Handbook.
  • This blog called Save the Media penned by a 20-year newspaper veteran now working on a communications Ph.D. offers some helpful tips.
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  • Chad Sluder

    Wow, that was a great article. Thanks. Very useful.

  • I wrote about this recently after news filtered through regarding the paying for access to news content. I have seen over the last 18 months a steady step by national press to broach search engine profile using SEO techniques, it used to be unheard of.

    With the advent of new pay per view for news content the ability to attract people from the internet will be vital as many long term subscribers may be lost due to a refusal to pay for online news.

    Good article though.

  • Amy Green wrote: n journalism school we learned how to attract readers through snappy leads.

    “Snappy leads.” Is that what they’re calling slanderous innuendo these days? We’re on to y’all.


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